Saturday, August 28, 2010

Unreasonable expectations

I usually like my mailings from Tricycle, but this morning Matthieu Ricard struck me the wrong way. He wrote -
Anyone who enjoys inner peace is no more broken by failure than he is inflated by success. He is able to fully live his experiences in the context of a vast and profound serenity, since he understands that experiences are ephemeral and that it is useless to cling to them. There will be no “hard fall” when things turn bad and he is confronted with adversity. He does not sink into depression, since his happiness rests on a solid foundation.
Well, that's not me.

This came on the heels of a bad night, wide awake and depressed at 5:00 a.m.  My first thought was, Easy to say when you are a monk who lives in the mountains of Tibet. My life is more complicated.  Then I remembered that he has done a good deal of traveling in support of his books, a form of teaching, though he prefers to be at home.  I also remember an American teacher, John Tarrant, who lives as a householder and presents himself as constantly happy, undisturbed even when visiting a friend who is dying.  It is an ideal in Zen and perhaps in Buddhism in general - an undisturbed equanimity and inner sunshine. Enlightenment.

Well, that's not me.  I am emotional and responsive.  I feel intensely, given to rapture and bursts of tears.  As our old cat Sherlock used to say, "That's the kind of cat I am."  I am that, along with being naturally creative and nurturing.  This maybe is the answer to the first koan a teacher gave me, "Who is that one?" meaning, Who are you?  I am embodied and sensitive.

From what I read about the brain and gender, maybe these qualities are just being feminine.  This is about the thousandth time I've been driven to think about the masculinity of Zen, specifically, the tradition I've practiced in, Japanese Zen.  Yes, it teaches the Bodhissatva ideal, to serve all beings.  This emphasis appears much more in books than on retreats, where it is common to treat retreatants really badly in the paramilitary Japanese tradition, depriving us of sleep, hitting us with sticks, allowing no personal time.  On the one hand, this is the tradition that has come my way here in the American midwest, where there is a shortage of authentic teachers.  On the other hand, I have been attracted to Japanese Zen, fascinated in the beginning (Are they serious!?) 

So many of us pick the religious practice that serves our trip, or make it serve our trip.  This is easily seen in yoga classes where people vye to "do the pose perfectly," seeing it as accomplishment rather than a spiritual practice. My trip was trying too hard, trying to be perfect, believing I could be, believing that out there if I did practice hard enough was exactly that perfect happiness Ricard describes.  And not so incidentally, I would rise above my reaction to people using the noun "men." to mean "people", which dates from a time when only men were considered human.  A time when it was believed that one could achieve enlightenment only "in a male body."

Well, if I had much more access to a teacher, she might have helped me unlearn all that.  In fact, I am being helped right now by James Baraz book Awakening Joy.  Maybe joy is an easier thing to aim for than happiness.

But I am who I am.  Yesterday's labs showed I am still anemic, hemoglobin under 10, despite 40,000 units of EPO, enough to help you win the Tour de France. That accounts in part for the slow depression I have been in; you are not just what you think. 

I gave myself another shot yesterday; it will take a while.  Meanwhile I have to confront the dread special pharmacy that handles this very expensive drug, which requires refrigeration all along the way.  It can take weeks to unravel their Byzantine structures and get a refill. On the happiness side, I am glad to have the drug, and the double insurance (earned through working dull, meaningless jobs) that pays for it. 

Maybe more important to my happiness, this live transplant thing has been dragging along for over two months now, and still no answer as to whether the donor qualifies.  This has given me ample time to think about all the things that can go wrong, and how they can go wrong any time - before the transplant, at the moment of surgery, the next day, refusal of the kidney to take, any day in the years after.  I wouldn't do it, except that dialysis is the only option.  Hard, very hard to feel lucky that you have these options.  It's there, but today I just feel discouraged. Well, I'm almost 68, and all these years of work have changed me in some ways, but not perfected me.  My new motto, related to this, and Baraz' book, is Don't try so hard. Maybe that's a form of enlightenment, to relax.

[image:  Oak twig and shadow, Jeanne Desy]

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